HOPE: Literacy and Gutenberg

In one of the talks on Friday, on text to speech software, a series of statistics about the US reading habits were thrown up on the screen. Co-incidently (i think) the same set of stats appeared on on Jeff Jarvis’s blog, sourced from Dan Poynter.

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. …
58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another book.
80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.
Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.
Customers 55 and older account for more than one-third of all books bought.

I’m not sure how accurate these are (some of the other stats on the page contradict them) but they give a frightening picture of literacy today and, as Gerald Green stated in his talk, shows another aspect of the digital divide, that of reading. He focuses on using text to speach as a way of improving adult literacy, with tools that are out there translating the written word on a browser to the spoken one.

This leads nicely on to Project Gutenberg and Michael Hart, who gave the keynote speach on Saturday at Hope. His passion for all that he does rang clear throughout the talk and the interest and desire for involvement fromthe audience came throught he questions. The history of the project can be read here; it celebrated it’s 35th anniversary a few weeks ago and is giving away 1/3 million ebooks until beginning of August. During the talk, they gave away DVDs containing 17500 books, that’s more than double the number found in the average library.

The stated target is to provide a billion books to a billion people, building a better world from the bottom up. To help in this aim, he said he is also in the process of putting together a project with the $100 laptop team. If you want to help, send in your ebooks or go and become a Distributed Proofreader.

In my case, despite all the time I spend online, I still prefer a physical book. I own over a 1000 and that is still with a lot of pruning – getting rid of them is a very hard job! In the 2 months I’ve been in te US, I seem to have collected about 15 new books, which I now have to transport back. I spent a lot of my childhood reading; a perpetual refrain from my mother was to ask me to stop reading a book – actually, she still does that occasionally 😉 There’s always anticipation and pleasure when I buy a book from one of my ‘regular’ authors. But I buy a lot of crap as well, trashy airport novels, for holidays and travelling. These ones I could easily switch to ebooks, but I’ve not found the right tool yet; although I’ve not looked too hard. I need something that is easy to carry and probably lasts over 24 hours without charging (and I also need the trashy novels to be ebooks of course, which they are not from what I’ve seen). I’ve now got 17500 new texts to read an browse, but nothing to easily do that on. I may switch to reading somethings as an ebook, but I’m unlikely to stop buying the physical objects.

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